One of the best things about being on snowshoes is having the chance to truly ‘follow in the footsteps’ of the animals that live in our mountains. Mule deer, snowshoe hare, elk, bobcat, coyote and even mice are all quite active throughout the Winter and leave their marks on the snow.
Although the critters themselves are seldom seen during the day, the record of where they went, what they were doing, and how fast they were moving is all there for the observant snowshoer. It can make a fine game–like when we were kids and were asked to make up a story from looking at a picture book.
An off-trail snowshoe trip with a friend today showed us lots of tracks, especially mule deer which had crisscrossed along the same ridges we were traveling. In fact, since the deer know the the woods they live in better than we visitors, it’s not a bad idea to take a
clue from their tracks–they tend to use the easiest routes around terrain.
We saw where the deer had bedded down, leaving body-shaped bowls in the snow. Their hollow body hair and fuzzy undercoat makes fine insulation, so snow melts very little. We saw tracks of a single deer–probably a yearling–who had spooked and bounced gazelle-like this way and that. The gait is called “stotting” and leaves a quite distinctive pattern in the snow with some impressive distances between bounces. We saw where the small band had bunched up and where they had spread out to feed on small shrubs. Having watched deer in the past, it was not hard to imagine the movements of this group from their tracks.
Though not nearly so graceful in the snow, I hope to be back on snowshoes again soon to read more stories from the remarkable creatures that also make New Mexico their home.